The Regional District of Mount Waddington hopes to avoid a looming spike in the cost of its transit system in the wake of last week’s release of the BC Transit Independent Review’s final report.
The report, released by Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom, outlined 18 recommendations following consultation with BC Transit and local governments across the province.
One of the presentations to the review panel came from Greg Fletcher, RDMW administrator, and Mary Mavis of North Island Community Services, which manages the Mount Waddington Transit System that serves riders in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and several surrounding communities.
Facing a mandated replacement next year of the three buses placed in service through BC Transit in 2008, the RDMW argued BC Transit fails to take into consideration the specific usage patterns and needs of smaller, rural systems.
“One of our objections is that our service providers have looked after the buses very well,” said Fletcher. “BC Transit has deemed these buses have a five-year service life. We’re saying, ‘No, we can get another three years out of them.’
“Why put taxpayers through the wringer for new buses now?”
That wringer has been tightened since the original buses were place in service. In 2010 Mount Waddington Transit was charged a $36,000 lease rate based on a $185,000 vehicle cost. That leaps to an estimated $48,000 next year, based on a cost of $240,000 for each new bus. In their Power Point presentation to the commission, Fletcher and Mavis showed examples of similar, 20-passenger buses, equipped with lifts, available in Canada for less than $100,000.
“In its general report, BC Transit said it is trying to follow best-purchase practices,” Fletcher said. “We don’t agree with their practices at all.”
The RDMW and North Island Community Services argues BC Transit has mandated terms of its agreements and forced costs onto local users, despite paying just 48 per cent of the costs compared to 52 per cent for the regional district.
The commission’s recommendation agreed, and has recommended BC Transit review its communications with local governments and how its funding relationships operate.
“The commission said local governments need more information from fleet management to adjust their policy, and we certainly agree with that,” said Fletcher. “If we know ahead of time what the BC Transit policy is, we start planning well in advance. Local governments are good at that because we put aside our surpluses; there’s none of that ‘March Madness’ to spend all that’s left in the budget at the end of the fiscal year.”
Capital issues also played a big part in RDMW’s presentation to the commission.
The final report has been posted online to give local governments, BC Transit and the provincial government time to consider the panel’s recommendations. Lekstrom said he plans to provide the ministry’s official response at the annual convention of the Union of BC Municipalities next month.
“It is very important to put the panel’s recommendations out there and provide time for everyone to consider each recommendation carefully,” Lekstrom said. “We have a great transit system across British Columbia, but there is always room for improvement.”
In its own response to the report, BC Transit admitted that some policies may need to be reviewed, but focused on the positives.
“We have proven that we are operating efficiently and effectively under the existing governance model,” BC Transit President and CEO Manuel Achadinha said. “We are confident any changes to the governance model will ensure that we can continue to provide efficient and effective transit service to our customers and to taxpayers.”